Over the past couple of years, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have seen the Book of Mormon come to life in new, live action videos based on the Book of Mormon. After completing the first three of five seasons, Church film producer Aaron Merrell spoke to students and employees at the Winter 2021 University Forum about the making of these videos (Watch recording here).
According to Merrell, even before they could begin working on the movie, the production team needed to be on the same page with the First Presidency about how they were going to portray the Book of Mormon in these films. President Russell M. Nelson told the team that the purpose of the Book of Mormon videos needed to be the same as the purpose of the Book of Mormon itself. This purpose is:
“To show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever...And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations,” (Title page of the Book of Mormon).
Upon pondering this mission statement, Merrell and his team created a list of main objectives for the videos as they strived to testify of Jesus Christ:
- Strengthen faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
- Increase understanding of the Lord’s covenant to gather the House of Israel.
- Increase understanding of the doctrine of Christ and unique teachings of the Book of Mormon.
- Change behavior towards living a more Christlike life.
- Generate interest in studying the Book of Mormon.
For the production to run smoothly, the filmmaking team included many different collaborative professionals including technical operators, support team, actors, costume designers, video editors, and more. Merrell shared in his forum address the importance of learning to collaborate with others, one of BYU-Idaho's four learning outcomes.
“We really need that good collaboration to bring the best elements together to make it successful,” Merrell said.
Merrell and his team also worked with scholars and experts to make sure that every detail portrayed in the videos was accurate to the time period and scriptural references. Merrell shared an incident where someone approached him after watching the produced videos and wanted to correct a scriptural detail they thought the filmmakers had missed. Merrell was able to share the scripture and clarify the accuracy of what was shown in the video.
“Because of the help of our consultants, scholars, and committees, we were able to make sure we had those little things worked out so we can make them as accurate as possible,” Merrell stated.
Merrell spoke about how his team had to learn and adjust to different challenges throughout the production process. He gave an example of how the team was unsure of how to portray a specific Book of Mormon scene in 1 Nephi 15. In this chapter, Nephi returns from having a vision of the tree of life and finds his brothers arguing with each other because they don’t believe what their father Lehi has said. Nephi asked his brothers, “Have ye inquired of the Lord?”
While the production team was unsure how to best represent this scene, they stepped back from the situation and prayed to know what they should do. Upon praying for guidance, the team received revelation for how to move forward.
“We were unified and knew exactly how we were supposed to portray that scene,” Merrell said. “It was a great learning experience for me and a blessing to be able to first-hand feel that from the Lord.”
Merrell testified that he learned to trust the Lord and rely on help from Heavenly Father. He mentioned the similarities of Nephi to each of us, and how we are able to use the scriptures as a learning tool in our personal lives.
“Just as the scriptures were an inspiration to Nephi, the Book of Mormon is an inspiration and guidance to us,” Merrell taught. “And just as he was able to receive Heavenly help, we are able to receive that help as well.”
Merrell said he and others witnessed miracles as they filmed the Book of Mormon videos including weather alterations on their film set with smoke and rain. Merrell recognized both the big and small miracles the filmmaking team experienced, including being able to shoot all their footage, keep everyone safe from injury, and stay on schedule with their work, despite filming in the rain.
“Sometimes miracles aren’t exactly the big ones that you see. You have to find those small miracles,” Merrell stated.
Merrell concluded by advising students and employees as they go forward in their education, careers, and building their families. “Remember to know your purpose, work with others, learn and adjust, and most importantly trust in the Lord. In time you will be overwhelmed with gratitude to find that the Lord has come to trust you.”